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Leigh Witchel

Matthew Gurewitsch's article on La Bayadere in the NY Times

16 posts in this topic

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/04/arts/dan...nce/04GURE.html

There'sa a lot to discuss here. Gurewitsch makes the provocative claim that Bayadere is now the quintessential emblem of classical ballet because it has survived for the most part unaltered - others have claimed Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, but Bayadere is still "ours alone".

What do others think?

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I really do think Monte Python has staked a claim to the parrots...

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Before this turns into a joke thread, in this forum, could I ask that we discuss the ballet under consideration seriously? Thanks. Any further OT comments will be deleted.

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It's an interesting piece -- and very well-written, IMO. I wish someone who's directing this production -- any production of the full-length, anywhere -- would read this for the way he tells the story and describes the action and characters. It makes a good case for the ballet as a serious work of art.

Whether Bayadere's time has come is a separate question, I think, from whether it's THE classical ballet. I thnk it's a huge, wonderful mess -- and I'm all for going back to the originally messy version and not Makarova's manicured sandwich version. (Sandwich because the white act is in the middle, just like all the other ballets.)

It seems that Petipa's version had a first act that was nearly all pantomime, a second that was a variety show with character and off-pointe dancing, a long dream sequence with what we now think of as pure classical dancing (how did THEY think of it?) and then a last act that had all the elements.

I think that tells us something about Petipa. I'm not sure what, exactly, but I'm still working out how he worked. How could someone create a Greek tragedy, the Ed Sullivan show, and symphonic classicism, and knit it together to make a coherent dramatic whole?

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I liked the article, but after seeing the latest, or I should say oldest, Kirov version recently, I think Bayadere fallen off of my list of "see again".

Maybe it's the feminist in me that resents it some, but there's not enough dancing and it's a weak story, IMO. And the music isn't exactly the greatest.

I'd vote for Swan Lake or La Fille Mal Gardee

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Definitely not 'Bayadere'. When ABT was planning the Makarova version a number of years ago (at a cost, I think, of one million) I wrote a protest letter to the Company questioning why they were spending so much money on this 'chestnut'. I did manage to find some merit in the watered-down versions though. This latest "Kirov' version will have a hard time getting me to see it again.

'Bayadere' will never knock 'Swan Lake' off its pedestal---the opening strings of the orchestra are enough to send chills up my spine in anticipation of what I am a bout to see.

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I can see that La Bayadere belongs only to ballet as the Nutcracker is so universal (Barbie et al) and, I believe, Swan Lake has moved into the commercial market with children's books. The original text of Swan Lake has been changed and morphed. As Gurewitsch mentioned, Sleeping Beauty had already been a well-known fairytale. Yet I can't completely embrace La Bayadere.

For me, it falls into the categories so well spelt out in Croce's essay about ballets that are beloved, but flawed, vs. masterpieces that we admire and enjoy, but don't love. La Bayadere falls into the second category, for me for a few reasons. 1) I don't really like any of the characters. Or rather, I don't sympathize for them. The Rajah, Gamzatti and the High Priest are, for the most part, loathesome people. Solor has always come off pretty empty me, and becomes unlikeable when he turns his back on a dying Nikya. She does not effect me as the other ballet heroines do (Odette, Giselle or Sleeping Beauty) and is very cold. 2) While the Shades scene is always very beautiful, the corps lacks a character. They aren't vengeful as the Willis or sorrowful like the swans. Yet, I don't know if they mean to be "background" or a sort of a muliple relection of the ballerina as the corps is in the white acts of Don Q or Le Corsaire.

3) As we've talked about elsewhere on the board, the music is not considered great. Personally, I find some of it very beautiful and the score certainly fits the bill and does its service for the ballet. 4) And the ballet, as Gurewitsch mentions, does have aspects of all theater in it, I believe the Sleeping Beauty (as I saw it in the old/new Kirov version) combines all those factors (mime, design, music, dance, pomp) much better.

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Oh, I don't know, I just really love La Bayadere. But, I can certainly see how and why someone might not like it at all. In arts I think almost everything is subjective;)

Even though I'm yet to see a perfect cast to my taste, It's probably one of dearest older ballets to me (along with Giselle). Yes it's very old fashioned, and it's plot can come across as corny story from soap opera. Also, of course, in many respects it's not as perfected as let's say Sleeping beauty or Swan Lake, (music is simplistic, storyline is maybe less coherent , there is lack of stylistic unison), but all these ballets are not quite representing the same period in art history.

To me some imperfections generally can be very interesting and add quality actually. That's not only because in contrast with them all brilliant details shine even more. (I'll give an example from visual arts, even though I know it is not possible to compare painting of early and high renaissance. To me, paintings of i.e.. Masaccio and De la Francesca, at the same time naive in some respects (perspective, realism) and ingenious and very modern in others (composition, coloring and atmosphere) were always dearer and more refreshing than perfection of ones by i.e.. Raphael or Michelangelo. Of course- that's just my personal taste ). :)

To me, besides beautiful dancing, there is also heart in La Bayadere. There are lot's of nuances to characters (High Brahmin, Gamzatti and even Solor could be very interesting - if acted and danced well we can feel sympathetic to them, or at least understand their actions, like some characters from Henry James's novels).

I enjoy all versions that I saw so far (old Kirov and Macarova's only on tape), and despite all flaws, any version of La Bayadere will at least have one member of the audience :)

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Dale said:

"For me, it falls into the categories so well spelt out in Croce's essay about ballets that are beloved, but flawed, vs. masterpieces that we admire and enjoy, but don't love. La Bayadere falls into the second category, for me for a few reasons"

I didn't see your post when I was writing mine, Dale, and it looks like we did have similar thread of thought. Intresting to me is (as you can see from my post above) that La Bayadere would be in first Croce's category, according to how I feel.:)

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LA BAYADERE is very representative of most Petipa full-length ballets (lots of pantomime, character dance, use of children, melodrama, score by a house composer, long running time). It's interesting to read the various reactions to the Kirov's reconstruction (which, btw, I have not seen). SLEEPING BEAUTY was a special case - Tchaikovsky was on the team and Vsevolozhsky made a lot of contributions. It suceeded, overall, whereas NUTCRACKER did not, despite the work of the same team. SWAN LAKE has morphed into something it was not when it was revived in 1895. Many people today might have the same reaction to a reconstructed SWAN LAKE as they have to the new-old BAYADERE. So, in this light, I might agree that, of those ballets which are still in rep today, BAYADERE is most representative of late 19th century Russian ballet.

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Doug writes:

"Many people today might have the same reaction to a reconstructured Swan Lake as they have to the new-old Bayadere"

I really don't mean to be flippant, but this could happen only if they are tone-deaf.

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First time I've ever used "LOL" on this board, atm :) I agree about the difference in the scores, but I think Doug meant that if we saw a back-to-1890 sources "Swan Lake" they might not like it -- another variant on the "the best/real production is the one I'm used to" question :)

I grew up with two Swan Lakes -- the old Royal Ballet production and the David Blair production for ABT (which was a pared down version of that old Royal Ballet production). Much of those productions were said to be based on the Stepanov notations -- but so much had been changed. The Ashton additions , all of which I adore -- especially the now tossed out first act waltz -- the danse de coupes was De Valois's, the character dances were restaged. Yes, it was the old, traditional version :)

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Exactly. I wasn't thinking of the musical issues. Minkus composed many more ballets than Tchaikovsky. Pugni contributed many scores as well, including DAUGHTER OF PHARAOH, and I think he was a less talented composer than Minkus. We're not used to their sort of music today, most finding it dull or worse, but theirs was the norm in late 19th century Russian ballet. Makes us grateful for Tchaikovsky and Glazunov, and maybe even Drigo, but nonetheless, Petipa and his dancers were most used to the Pugnis and Minkus's of the day. Doesn't mean we have prefer them or even like them (personal preference being a different issue than appreciation), but they can be appreciated for being involved with a large part of Petipa's output. :)

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I was thinking of Balanchine's admonition:--if you don't like what's on stage, close your eyes and listen to the music. Much easier to do with Swan Lake.

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I dont think ballet has to tell a deep emotional story all the time, and none of the ballets that have ever been made dont need some big analogy, nor does the music have to be 1st rate. As long as it inspires, and makes us want to go to the ballet and/or dance WHO CARES?

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As long as a ballet continues to engage its audience in beauty, and provides continuing interest in its content, be it narrative, choreographic, or musical, it is fair game for production. I never particularly cared for Balanchine's "extended version" of Act II "Swan Lake", and the critics can write about the "waves of dancers" in the last movement of the ballet, it never grabbed me. I knew that that last movement was Act IV music, and I didn't like it, no sir, didn't like it a bit. Now, compared to Martins' totally inadequate end-of-first-lakeside scene, it would be a welcome relief.

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